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SportsColumnistsNeil Best

First Rangers-Islanders game in Brooklyn a success for rivalry

Marc Staal #18 of the New York Rangers

Marc Staal #18 of the New York Rangers checks Matt Martin #17 of the New York Islanders during the third period of a game at Barclays Center on Dec. 2, 2015. Credit: Getty Images / Bruce Bennett

As mind-bending, history-altering, dizziness-inducing experiences go, it was a pretty darn pleasant evening in the end.

The Rangers visited Brooklyn for the first time in their nine-decade history Wednesday to face the relocated Islanders and what ensued was what the rivalry often has produced since its inception in 1972:

Intensity and excitement on and off the ice – with the Islanders winning an entertaining contest, 2-1, in a shootout – in this case without apparent mayhem to go along with it.

Before the game and during between-periods breaks, numerous groups of friends could be seen interacting while wearing replica jerseys from the opposing camps.

Among them were Mike Sanchez, 23, of Wantagh, who wore one representing Islanders captain John Tavares, and Corinne Kleshefsky, 25, of Wantagh, who wore one representing the Rangers’ Derick Brassard.

Kleshefsky said they were on a first date.

“Interesting, right?” she said. “Very interesting . . . He’s going to have a black eye before the second period, so it’s going to be fun.”

Fun it was, reassuring those who had wondered how the rivalry would translate as an intra-city affair. It now is easier for many Rangers fans – and Rangers players – to get to the Islanders’ home than it is for the Islanders and their fans.

But fears that Rangers fans would predominate at Barclays Center were unfounded. The sellout crowd was split evenly, with enough noise generated by each side after its respective regulation-time goals to sound like a full house on its own.

There were many moments of strangeness, with overlapping chants drowning each other out and boos mixed with cheers for the likes of Mike Bossy and Clark Gillies when they were shown on the video board.

WFAN host and Rangers fan Boomer Esiason was shown with an Islanders jersey and hat superimposed on his body, so he tilted his head forward to reveal his cap’s Rangers logo. Both cheers and boos followed. As it should be.

None of the above is meant to diminish the pain and displacement of the move for many Long Islanders who cannot or will not attend as many games as they used to – if any.

That is real, and must be acknowledged every time we write about this stuff.

Asked what he thinks of the move, Sanchez spoke for many in saying, “I hate it. I like having the Coliseum because it rocks like no place else and you get the parking atmosphere before the game as opposed to the train, which is not as fun.”

But it is what it is, and what it was on Day One of an old rivalry in a new era was difficult to argue against.

The atmosphere at Barclays has been lacking on many nights in this young season. Not so Wednesday.

“I thought it was the best we had all year so far,” goaltender Jaroslav Halak said.

Said Tavares, “Certainly the crowd was into it; right from warmups to the end of the game it was intense. And certainly it had the Islander-Ranger feel.”

When it was over some fans who had braved driving to the game exited a nearby parking lot honking their horns to the beat of “Let’s go, Islanders!” as they pulled onto Atlantic Avenue.

It was a familiar sound in a wildly unfamiliar setting.

The teams are scheduled to do it all over again in Brooklyn Jan. 14.

New York Sports